The latest, infuriating entry in the military’s ham-handed handling of sexual assault involves a Catch-22 worthy of Joseph Heller.
Follow the “logic”:
(1) The military acknowledges that most incidents of sexual assault are never reported to authorities. (If you wonder why, see the put-the-alleged-victim-on-trial proceedings just concluded involving the U.S. Naval Academy.)
(2) The military acknowledges that this underreporting includes the most serious forms of sexual assault, such as rape.
(3) The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges that such assaults can have consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that require treatment years later.
Now, the catch.
(4) The VA — backed up in court by the Justice Department — insists that, for purposes of determining eligibility for benefits, the failure to report sexual assault can be used as evidence that it did not occur.
In short, we know these incidents aren’t reported, yet if you don’t report, you’re out of luck. Next case.
This appalling attitude came to light in a just-released opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which instructed the VA, in essence, to knock it off.
The ruling, written by Judge Timothy Dyk and joined by Judge Raymond Clevenger, involved two claims. One woman, identified only as A.Z., served from March 1973 to July 1974, receiving an honorable discharge after she became pregnant. In 2004, she was diagnosed with psychiatric problems, including PTSD, which she blamed on sexual and physical abuse by a superior officer who she claims raped her and fathered her child.
The VA rejected the claim because there was no evidence in the record of sexual assault. A.Z. submitted statements from three siblings, who said that in “about her fourth or fifth month of pregnancy [A.Z.] told us she had been sexually assaulted, verbally abused and beaten by Sgt. [J.H.]” and that their sister did not report the incidents to military authorities because she was scared and did not think she would be believed.